The Ledes

Tuesday, September 23, 2014.

New York Times: "The United States and five Arab allies launched a wide-ranging air campaign against the Islamic State and at least one other extremist group in Syria for the first time early Tuesday, targeting the groups’ bases, training camps and checkpoints in at least four provinces, according to the United States military and Syrian activists. The intensity of the attacks struck a fierce opening blow against the jihadists of the Islamic State, scattering its forces and damaging the network of facilities it has built in Syria that helped fuel its seizure of a large part of Iraq this year." ...

... AP: "Syria said Tuesday that Washington informed President Bashar Assad's government of imminent U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State group, hours before an American-led military coalition pounded the extremists' strongholds across northern and eastern Syria."

New York Times: "The Israeli military said Tuesday morning that it had shot down a Syrian fighter jet that had “infiltrated into Israeli airspace,” the first such incident in at least a quarter of a century."

New York Times: "Israeli forces early Tuesday killed the two men they suspected of abducting and murdering three Israeli teenagers from the occupied West Bank in June, according to a military spokesman, closing a crucial chapter in what became the bloodiest period of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in decades.Lt. Col. Peter Lerner of the Israeli military said Marwan Qawasmeh, 29, and Amer Abu Aisha, 33, 'came out shooting' around 6 a.m. as troops breached a two-story structure in Hebron where the suspects had been holed up for a week."

The Wires

Public Service Announcement

Washington Post, September 17: "Artificial sweeteners might be triggering higher blood-sugar levels in some people and contributing to the problems they were designed to combat, such as diabetes and obesity, according to new findings published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

New York Times, September 1: "People who avoid carbohydrates and eat more fat, even saturated fat, lose more body fat and have fewer cardiovascular risks than people who follow the low-fat diet that health authorities have favored for decades, a major new study [financed by the N.I.H.] shows."

White House Live Video
September 23

12:50 pm ET: President Obama speaks at the U.N. climate summit in New York City

2:00 pm ET: President Obama speaks at a Clinton Global Iniative meeting

If you don't see the livefeed here, go to


CW: Here's some cheery news. The MacArthur Foundation has named the newest recipients of its "genius" grants. I hope none of them is somebody you personally dislike (thus keeping it cheery). The AP article linked includes a slide show with mini-profiles of each grant recipient.

** CW: The best, most provocative piece of writing in the "news" today is A. O. Scott's piece in the New York Times Magazine on "The Death of Adulthood in American Culture." If you don't watch a lot of TV & never see stupid movies, you will struggle with Scott's exemplary references. You may not accept all of his premises, & I think he falls short on defining "adulthood" (though maybe, like pornography, we're supposed to recognize it when we see it.). ...

... Adam Sternbergh responds in New York.

Jeff Weiss, in the New York Times, profiles comedian Bill Maher, who is in the midst of a schtick aimed to defeat the U.S.'s worst Congressperson. You would be a good idea to read Weiss's piece with A. O. Scott's essay in mind. Maher (& even Weiss, who -- in ticking off "bad things" about Maher -- never mentions Maher's offensive attitudes about women) is a fine example of Scott's thesis.

Guardian: "Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their second child, the royal family said on Monday morning. The announcement was made from Clarence House on Twitter.... The Duchess of Cornwall is suffering from acute morning sickness, as she did with her first pregnancy, and is being treated by doctors at her apartments in Kensington Palace."

Washington Post: "After less than a year at the top of Politico’s masthead, veteran New York Times editor Rick Berke has resigned as the publication’s executive editor.... Friction had been on display in the newsroom almost from the beginning of his tenure. Berke, according to several current and former Politico employees, tried to impose some of the values of the world he came from — where multiple editors might weigh in, demand multiple drafts, and shape bigger, more ambitious stories — on Politico’s fast-moving, reporter-driven newsroom."


Jimmy Fallon & Maroon 5 singer & Voice judge Adam Levine stage a "musical impressions-off." This clip, from a show that aired this week (September 2), already has more than 8MM hits:

New York Times: "The jilted lover of President François Hollande of France has written a tell-all book about her days as France’s onetime unofficial first lady and of her version of events that led the couple to separate after the president was exposed as having an affair by a French gossip magazine. The book by Valérie Trierweiler, 49, who separated from Mr. Hollande in January, describes how news of the affair pushed her to the edge. She acknowledges that she 'cracked' and attempted suicide by trying to overdose on sleeping pills when she learned of Mr. Hollande’s affair with an actress, Julie Gayet.... The book drew a barrage of criticism for revealing secrets about the president, whose office embodies the nation and is rarefied like that of a monarch."

Washington Post: "Apple said that its iCloud systems have not been breached Tuesday and that thieves stole celebrity photos from Apple accounts by targeting individuals, rather than by breaking into the company's infrastructure."

Gabrielle Bluestone of Gawker claims she has compiled "everything we know about the alleged celeb nude 'trading ring' & leak." CW: I'll take her word for it, though I should warn you her post does not include any nude pix. My advice: If you wanna be in pictures, but you don't want photos of your naked self published on celebrity Websites, don't upload the pictures onto the Internets. There be hackers. 

... Marisa Guthrie of the Hollywood Reporter interviews Jon Stewart, mostly on the making of his film "Rosewater," which is based on the arrest & incarceration of journalist Maziar Bahari in Iran in 2009.

AP: Actors "Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were married Saturday in the French hamlet of Correns, a spokesman for the couple says. Jolie and Pitt wed in a small chapel in a private ceremony attended by family and friends at Provence's Chateau Miraval. In advance of the nondenominational civil ceremony, Pitt and Jolie obtained a marriage license from a local California judge. The judge also conducted the ceremony in France."

No, he isn't. -- David Chase, in answer to the question, "Is Tony dead?" ...

... However, it's more complicated than that. Follow-up story, with Chase's response to the original Vox story by Margaret Nochimson, here.

Todd VanDerWerff of Vox discusses the final scene of "The Sopranos":

New Yorker illustration.

The New Yorker has opened up its archives for the summer. An excellent opportunity to get in on some fabulous reading.


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The Commentariat -- May 5, 2012

According to the Obama-Biden campaign site, you can watch the first campaign rally, in Columbus, Ohio, here, beginning at 12:45 pm ET.

The President's Weekly Address:

     ... The transcript is here. Jim Kuhnhenn of the AP: "Placing a final punctuation mark on a week devoted to foreign policy, President Barack Obama on Saturday declared that his goal of defeating al-Qaida was within reach and said it was now time to turn the country's attention to more domestic concerns like strengthening the middle class."

Brad Plumer of the Washington Post: "The percentage of Americans in the labor force has been declining for more than a decade.... And while part of the story is clearly that the labor force is shrinking because the bad economy is driving workers out, another significant factor is that baby boomers are beginning to retire early -- a trend that has worrying implications for future growth. ...

... The New York Review of Books has an excerpt/adaptation of Paul Krugman's book End This Depression Now!

Dana Milbank: "A cornerstone of [Tea Partier] Richard Mourdock's effort to oust [Sen. Richard] Lugar [R-Ind.] is the six-term senator’s bad habit of bipartisanship — never mind that Lugar's bipartisanship was in the service of protecting millions of Americans from nuclear, chemical and biological terrorism.... Hoosier Republicans should reject Mourdock ... because they still believe that national security trumps partisanship."

Andy Rosenthal of the New York Times: 'After an unconscionably long delay of nearly a decade, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other men accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks will be arraigned Saturday in a military commission at Guantanamo Bay. Observers, including journalists, will be able to watch the hearing through glass. But the government has insisted on a 40-second audio delay, meaning censors can just switch the sound off if something happens that they don't want the public to hear -- like for example if Mr. Mohammed mentions that he was water-boarded 183 times in one month."

A rally for the candidate of the center-right New Democracy party, Antonis Samaras, who some analysts say is likely to head a coalition government as prime minister. Getty image.Rachel Donadio & Niki Kitsantonis of the New York Times: As Greece "heads to elections on Sunday in which no single party is expected to secure enough votes to form a stable government, they may have to try governing with political chaos. Along with elections in France, and with a rising tide of anti-austerity sentiment across Europe, Greece's vote is expected to have a clear impact on the future of the euro."

Presidential Race

Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times reports on President Obama's close involvement in campaign strategy.

Gail Collins considers Barack Obama's New York years. ...

David Maraniss on why Barack Obama is comfortable being Commander in Chief: "Obama is the first president to whom Vietnam is ancient history.... Obama feels more affinity toward his grandfather's generation (Stan Dunham fought in Europe during World War II) than to his mother’s, or he at least finds it more culturally appealing."

Ben Armbruster of Think Progress: "Yesterday Mitt Romney attacked President Obama over the administration's handling of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng. Citing 'very troubling developments,' Romney said yesterday was 'a dark day for freedom and it's a day of shame for the Obama administration.' Last night on Fox News, Bill Kristol advised Romney to stand down on the Chen case, calling his attacks on Obama 'foolish.'" Kristol said, "There is no need to butt into a fast moving story when the secretary of state is in Beijing with delicate negotiations and say it's a day of shame for the Obama administration." Today Mr. Romney's campaign has released a statement criticizing President Obama for playing golf when the nation is at war, for his partisan decision to invite only Republicans to his foursome, for scoring too high & for looking lousy in golf shirts; the President is expected to tee up at 11:00 am ET. (CW: Could be I made up that last sentence. But seriously, Romney's buttinsky remarks on the Chen negotiations isn't just foolish -- it shows how shockingly little Romney understands about international relations & how willing he is to undermine his own country for possible political gain.)

New York Times Editors: "On Friday, Mitt Romney blamed President Obama for the April jobs figures, saying that in a normal recovery 'we should be seeing numbers in the 500,000 jobs created per month.' The truth is that the economy has not seen job growth like that in nearly 30 years. More to the point, the policies Mr. Romney espouses -- notably deregulation and tax cuts for the rich -- were the favored policies under President George W. Bush, years when job growth and wage gains were, at best, anemic." ...

... Oh, but you know that's not the only lie The Great Prevaricator came up with this week. Steve Benen lists 18 lies of the week.

Rachel Weiner of the Washington Post: Ric Grenell, the disgruntled Employee of the for a Week, has put Romney in an awkward spot: Romney "is now forced to insist that he didn't fire an aide for his sexuality, an assertion that could jeopardize his already shaky relationship with the religious right." ...

... Tim Murphy of Mother Jones: "The [Grenell] episode is reminiscent of a controversy that occurred when Romney was governor of Massachusetts: The 2004 dismissal of Ardith Wieworka, longtime head of the state's Office of Child Care Services, who alleged that she had been terminated because of her decision to marry her partner."

Your Puzzling News of the Day. Emily Friedman of ABC News: "Tagg Romney, the eldest son of presidential candidate Mitt Romney, announced via Twitter that he and his wife Jen have new twin boys, delivered by a surrogate today. 'Happy 2 announce birth of twin boys David Mitt and William Ryder. Big thanks to our surrogate. Life is a miracle,' Tagg tweeting, linking to a photo of himself and one of his new sons. This the second time that Tagg, 42, and his wife, Jen, 39, have used a surrogate. The same surrogate was used for the twins carried their youngest son Jonathan, who was born in August of 2010. Their other three children were not born via surrogacy." CW: I know this is none of our business & has nothing to do with the presidential race, but I personally think it's weird to use a surrogate when a couple already has three children, let alone four. I'm open to second opinions. ...

... Oh, wait. Maybe Tagg & Mrs. Tagg want to have more kids to give them an advantage at this year's family baby toss:


... Apparently the Mittster plays this game all the time. I guess Ann Romney was right: he really is a wild and crazy guy:

... This kid is so not into the game. Must be one of the 99 Percent. You're doomed, child:

How Cool Is This? Ted Nugent loses it again. Remember, Willard's crew was thrilled when Nugent endorsed him:

     ... According to the Hollywood Gossip site, here's the bleeped language Nugent used, only partially bleeped here: "'I'm an extremely loving and passionate man, and people who investigate me honestly, without the baggage of political correctness, ascertain the conclusion that I'm a damned nice guy ... and if you can find a screening process more powerful than that, I'll suck your d-ck.' The musician then turned to a female producer and added: 'Or I'll f-ck you, how's that sound?'" ...

     ... Justin Sink of The Hill: "Mitt Romney's campaign is denying it expressed support for Ted Nugent after he made controversial comments last month that led to him being interviewed by Secret Service agents. Nugent on Friday gave his first television interview since the investigation, and the aging rocker said that Romney's team "expressed support" for him after his remarks.

AND, finally Joel Pollak of Breitbart, who must be a genius, has discovered proof positive, hiding in plain sight, that Barack Obama is a Communist sympathizer. Thank you, Joel, for this insightful piece of investigative journalism. You are a great advertisement for a free press.

Right Wing World

Heartland billboard in Chicago.

Leo Hickman of the Guardian: "The Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based rightwing thinktank notorious for promoting climate skepticism, has launched quite possibly one of the most ill-judged poster campaigns in the history of ill-judged poster campaigns." Heartland itself boasts, "Billboards in Chicago paid for by The Heartland Institute point out that some of the world's most notorious criminals say they 'still believe in global warming' -- and ask viewers if they do, too…The billboard series features Ted Kaczynski, the infamous Unabomber; Charles Manson, a mass murderer; and Fidel Castro, a tyrant. Other global warming alarmists who may appear on future billboards include Osama bin Laden.... Of course, not all global warming alarmists are murderers or tyrants." ...

... CW: Stalin was a meat-eater. Therefore, all meat-eaters are mass murderers. Hitler was a vegetarian. Therefore all vegetarians are mass murderers. Ergo, everybody is a mass murderer. That’s the logic to the Heartland ad ad campaign despite the disclaimer they throw into their press release. ...

... Brian Vastig of the Washington Post: "The billboard went live Thursday afternoon. But by 4 p.m. Eastern time, an outcry from allies and opponents alike led the Heartland Institute’s president, Joe Bast, to say he would switch off the sign within the hour."

News Ledes

New York Times: "President Obama sought to rekindle the passion of his 2008 victory with a huge rally on Saturday that signaled a new, politically aggressive phase in the debate over the country's direction and the official start of his personal confrontation with Mitt Romney." Washington Post story here.

New York Times: "The arraignment of [Khalid Shaikh] Mohammed and four other accused conspirators in the Sept. 11 attacks got off to a slow and rocky start on Saturday. Defendants ignored the judge and stood at random intervals to pray, as defense lawyers repeatedly tried to change the subject to restrictions on their ability to communicate with their clients."

Reuters: "China said on Friday that blind dissident Chen Guangcheng could apply to study abroad, a move praised by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and suggesting an end may be near to a diplomatic standoff between Beijing and Washington."

Philadelphia Inquirer: "Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia said Friday that he had permanently removed five priests from active ministry for sexual abuse or misconduct with minors, and reinstated three others after an investigation could not substantiate similar claims against them. The decisions, which followed a 14-month review, marked one of the largest ousters of active priests in the archdiocese's history. It also validated a February 2011 grand jury report that accused local church leaders of ignoring evidence of clergy sex abuse and stirred new outrage among area Catholics.

AFP: "Boris Johnson was re-elected mayor of Olympic host city London late Friday to the relief Prime Minister David Cameron, after his Conservative Party took a beating in mid-term local elections."

Guardian: "David Cameron has apologised to hundreds of Conservative councillors who lost their seats in the local elections 'against a difficult national backdrop'. Earlier, the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, described his sadness at the party's results in elections which saw both the coalition parties suffer widespread losses."

Guardian: "The bodies of 23 people have been found hanging from a bridge or decapitated and dumped near city hall in the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo, where drug cartels are fighting a bloody and escalating turf war. It follows the discovery in Veracruz of four journalists' bodies in a canal."


The Commentariat -- May 4, 2012

I'll be away for several days. I'll try to post from time to time, but I don't know what kind of Internet connection I'll have where I'm going, so at best posting will be sporadic. -- Marie

Gene Robinson: "Does anybody really understand the U.S. policy in Afghanistan? The president’s televised address from Bagram air base raised more questions than it answered."

** Sara Robinson of AlterNet, in Salon, on the myth of the self-made man.

In the Daily Beast, Stephen King advocates for raising the top income tax rate to 50 percent. BTW, King would pay at the 50-percent rate. "The majority would rather douse their dicks with lighter fluid, strike a match, and dance around singing 'Disco Inferno' than pay one more cent in taxes to Uncle Sugar." Thanks to my very first boyfriend ever, David B. for the link. (He was the most adorable third-grader you ever saw.)

Paul Krugman on the correlation between income inequality & recession/ depression. "Many pundits assert that the U.S. economy has big structural problems that will prevent any quick recovery. All the evidence, however, points to a simple lack of demand, which could and should be cured very quickly through a combination of fiscal and monetary stimulus. No, the real structural problem is in our political system, which has been warped and paralyzed by the power of a small, wealthy minority. And the key to economic recovery lies in finding a way to get past that minority's malign influence."

Floyd Norris of the New York Times on why the U.S. economy has fared better than European economies. His analysis includes this remark: "There is nothing more grating than an ungrateful welfare recipient riding around in a chauffeured Mercedes complaining that he is not being treated fairly."

** Sabotage! Andrew Leonard of Salon: "Machiavelli would applaud. Republicans may have lost the 2008 presidential election, but their insurgency-style guerrilla tactics ever since have ensured that the war is far from over. In 2012, the politics of sabotage rule Washington." Leonard looks at critical elements of Paul Ryan's latest effort to destroy the government.

Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post: "The wages of austerity don’t stop with continental recession. They include, in some nations, the revival of the kind of political extremes not seen in Europe since World War II.... The United States has austerity demons of its own, of course. While the private sector has rebounded somewhat from the 2008-09 collapse, creating 4 million jobs since the turnaround began in 2010, state and local governments have shed 611,000 employees -- including 196,000 teachers -- since President Obama took office...."

John Cassidy of the New Yorker calls the upcoming presidential election in France the "austerity election." CW: It appears that's what the British municipal elections were, too.

Novelists Margaret Atwood, Edgar Doctorow & Martin Amis discuss the U.S.'s place in the world with New York Times film critic A. O. Scott:

Peter Baker of the New York Times: "The details of Bin Laden’s thoughts and frustrations while hiding in the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, emerge from a sheaf of letters released on Thursday that provide a sort of anthropology of a terror network."

Jonathan Cohn & David Strauss in Bloomberg News: "A decision to uphold the health-insurance mandate would be a powerful defense of liberty in the modern age."

John Dunbar & Michael Beckel of the Center for Public Integrity: "What the Citizens United decision and a lower court ruling have done is make household names out of a bunch of relatively unknown, very wealthy conservatives. Of the top 10 donors to super PACs so far in the 2012 election cycle, seven are individuals -- not corporations -- and four of those individuals are billionaires. The top 10 contributors gave more than a third, or $68 million of the nearly $202 million reported by the outside spending groups this election...."

Presidential Race

William Saletan of Slate: "Elections can change history. But mostly, they decide which party will pretend that the president changed history for the better, and which party will pretend that he changed it for the worse."

Jonathan Bernstein, in the Washington Post, on right-wing -- and mainstreamish -- hyperventilation about David Maraniss's biography of Obama: "There's a Republican-driven idea out there, one Sarah Palin is big on repeating, that Barack Obama wasn't fully vetted by the press in 2008. It's preposterous. The truth is that Obama has been the mainstream Democrat he ran as, and I'd guess that it's very difficult to tie whatever idiosyncrasies he's had within that to anything in particular about his personal history, and certainly not anything we didn't know about in November 2008."

David Corn asks economists to analyze Romney's claim that when ObamaCare kicks in, the government will control 50 percent of GDP; e.g., "Bruce Bartlett, who served as a senior economist in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations...: 'This analysis is so stupid it is hard to know where to begin.'"

Considering the Source.... Elicia Dover of ABC OTUS News: "Shown a new ad from the Obama campaign during an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer Thursday -- a clip reel of Gingrich's slams on Romney during the primary season -- [Newt] Gingrich laughed and said, 'You have a rough-and-tumble primary season and you'll get words like that.' He was asked if he still believes Romney is a liar. 'I still believe the Romney campaign said things that weren't true,' Gingrich said. 'I also believe that compared to Barack Obama, I would trust Mitt Romney 100 times over.'" Here's the ad:

MaddowBlog readers helped Newt write his concession speech.

Outsourcing. Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times: "The Republican National Committee on Thursday stepped up its assault on President Barack Obama in advance of his campaign formal kick off Saturday in Ohio and Virginia -- hitting him on 'high unemployment' in the U.S. as the RNC used a firm located in the Philippines to set up the 'messaging' call."

Alex Pareene of Salon: "Americans Elect is a weird experiment in applying a lot of money and time and resources into proving a common elite myth: That Americans as a whole are crying out for 'bold,' nonpartisan political leadership, and that their strong desire for moderate, independent solutions is stifled by the two-party system. So far, the organization has managed to win presidential ballot access in 26 states, which is a remarkable achievement. The only problem is, it has no candidate. And the process it developed to select a candidate is turning out to be a big, hilarious mess." CW: But, hey, it has the support of Tom Friedman!

Right Wing World *

Tim Egan: "The House run by John Boehner is stuffed with zealots and intellectual dead-enders who think compromise is a synonym for treason."

Steve Benen: "As part of his ongoing fascination with the 'Fast and Furious' controversy, House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) released a draft memo yesterday, making the case for holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.... The worst case scenario: the House holds Holder in contempt and instructs the House sergeant at arms to try to arrest the Attorney General, creating a bizarre constitutional crisis. That's an exceedingly unlikely scenario, though."

* Where sunrise is just a theory. -- Akhilleus

Local News

Charles Pierce: "Scott Walker, the goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to run their midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin, sat down with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel to chat things over, and the talk was portentous on a couple of different levels." CW: sorry, can't find the original interview. ...

... Save the Caucasians! AND here, Charles Pierce keeps us abreast of developments in other laboratories of democracy.

News Ledes

Raleigh News & Observer: "A Raleigh lawyer who represented John Edwards before he was charged with violating campaign finance laws told an attorney for the Virginia philanthropist at the center of the case that Edwards had benefited from the payments funneled to his former political campaign aide."

Reuters: "Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on Friday signed into law a bill banning abortion providers like Planned Parenthood from receiving money through the state, her office said in a statement."

ABC News: "President Obama highlighted the 'good news' in the latest jobs report today, but, speaking in the battleground state of Virginia, stressed 'we've got to do more to boost the economy, including freezing low interest rates for student loans."

Bloomberg News: "Employers in the U.S. added fewer workers than forecast in April and the jobless rate unexpectedly declined as people left the labor force, underscoring concern the world's largest economy may be losing speed. Payrolls climbed 115,000, the smallest gain in six months, after a revised 154,000 rise in March that was more than initially estimated...."

New York Times: "China's Foreign Ministry said on Friday that the dissident Chen Guangcheng can apply to study outside China in the same manner as more than 300,000 Chinese students already abroad, signaling a possible breakthrough in a diplomatic crisis that has deeply embarrassed the White House and threatens to sour relations with Beijing."

Washington Post: "Five men accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks, including the self-proclaimed mastermind, are headed back to a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay on Saturday, more than three years after President Barack Obama put the case on hold in a failed effort to move the proceedings to a civilian court and close the prison at the U.S. base in Cuba. This time the defendants may put up a fight."

AP: "From tasteless photos to urinating on dead insurgents, bad behavior by U.S. troops in Afghanistan has hampered America's war effort over the past year, triggering a broad new campaign by defense leaders to improve discipline in the ranks. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in his first personal appeal to troops on the issue, is expected Friday to remind U.S. forces that they are representing the American people and they must behave up to military standards."

New York Times: "At a time of deepening austerity, social cutbacks and political fallout from the long-running phone hacking scandal, Britons seemed to have turned against their national leaders in bellwether mayoral and local council elections claimed as a resounding triumph by the opposition Labour party, according to partial results on Friday." Guardian story here with related links.

Washington Post: "The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday pulled a $5,000 solicitation for a magician to motivate employees at a leadership training event, weeks after a mindreader hired by the General Services Administration became an embarrassing symbol of a Las Vegas spending spree." CW: they just keep on keepin' on, don't they?

Winnipeg Free Press: "The last Canadian penny will be manufactured today."






The Commentariat -- May 3, 2012

Bill Clinton reviews Robert Caro's Passage of Power, part of his biography of Lyndon Johnson.

Julian Brooks of Rolling Stone interviews Paul Krugman on how to fix the economy.

Cloak & Dagger

Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy: "The Chen case is an opportunity for the United States to reposition itself on the issue of human rights in a way that aligns American foreign policy with the Chinese people," said Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch. "'Chen is more than a dissident; he's a folk hero,' Malinowski said. 'This is someone who the Chinese people are rooting for. The fact that the only power in Beijing willing to protect him was the U.S. gives the U.S. government the moral high ground in this drama in the broader Chinese public.'"

Joseph Goldstein of the New York Times: "On Monday, the New York Police Department sent its warrant squads after an unusual set of suspects: people who had old warrants for the lowliest of violations.... But those who were questioned by the warrant squads said the officers had an ulterior motive: gathering intelligence on the Occupy Wall Street protests scheduled for May 1, or May Day. One person said he was interviewed about his plans for May Day. A second person said the police examined political fliers in his apartment, and then arrested him on a warrant for a 2007 open-container-of-alcohol violation."

Declan Walsh of the New York Times: "In the shadows of the American operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the fate of a small-town Pakistani doctor [Shakil Afridi] recruited by the C.I.A. to help track the Qaeda leader still looms between the two countries, a sore spot neither can leave untouched." CW: quite an interesting story, it involves Save the Children & other charitable groups operating inside Pakistan, some of whose personnel can't get out.

... David Caruso of the AP: "Last August, a retired Teamster from Boston stepped off an Amtrak train in New York City and collapsed on the platform at Pennsylvania Station. As medics tried to revive him, police searched his backpack for identification. Inside, they found the stuff that 'Law & Order' episodes are made of: $179,980 in cash, bundled with rubber bands and tucked inside two plastic bags..

Linda Greenhouse
: in oral arguments before the Supreme Court in U.S. v. Arizona, no one in the courtroom made any mention of the people who would be affected if the Court decides Arizona's S.B. 1070 is Constitutional, as likely it will. CW: I've got news for Greenhouse. That's the way the law is, & the higher in the court system you go, the more true that is. The Supremes don't give much consideration to the individuals whose lives they affect with their decisions; they care only about "principle."

Our Beautiful Third-World Country. Donald McNeil of the New York Times: According to a report by the World Health Organization, "... the United States is similar to developing countries in the percentage of mothers who give birth before their children are due.... It does worse than any Western European country and considerably worse than Japan or the Scandinavian countries. That stems from the unique American combination of many pregnant teenagers and many women older than 35 who are giving birth, sometimes to twins or triplets implanted after in vitro fertilization.... Also, many American women of childbearing age have other risk factors for premature birth, like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure or smoking habits. And the many women who lack health insurance often do not see doctors early in their pregnancies...."

Hillary Chabot of the Boston Herald: "Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, fending off questions about whether she used her Native American heritage to advance her career, said today she enrolled herself as a minority in law school directories for nearly a decade because she hoped to meet other people with tribal roots."

Presidential Race

Genevieve Cook, Barack Obama's girlfriend when he lived in New York City. Excerpts of her diary appear in Maraniss's biography of Obama.Here's an excerpt/adaptation from David Maraniss's biography of Barack Obama. The excerpt covers the period when Obama lived in New York City & is published in Vanity Fair. Steamy stuff! ...

... James Barron & Peter Baker of the New York Times on a Park Slope row house: "Barack Obama Slept Here."

Greg Sargent responds to the New York Times story (which I linked yesterday) that looks at Wall Street's disaffection with Obama & his populist message. Sargent zeroes in on the part where Wall Streeters wanted Obama "to make amends with a big speech -- like his oration on race -- designed to heal the wounds of class warfare in this country.... One wonders if there is anything Obama could say to make these people happy, short of declaring that rampant inequality is a good thing, in that it affirms the talent and industriousness of the deserving super rich. It certainly seems clear that they won't be satisfied until he stops mentioning it at all." ...

... Paul Krugman: "I guess being that rich means that you can surround yourself with people who never tell you how ridiculous you sound."

... Comes Now Adam Davidson of the New York Times to introduce you to Romney BFF and & BFB (Big Fat Benefactor) Edward Conard. Conard has spent the past 4 years writing a book, to be published next month, which "aggressively argues that the enormous and growing income inequality in the United States is ... a sign that our economy is working. And if we had a little more of it, then everyone, particularly the 99 percent, would be better off. This could be the most hated book of the year." And it gives you a damned good idea of the kind of nonsense coming from the minds of people who influence Romney. Wait till you read how Conard chose his wife! ...

... Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism does a fine job of critiquing Davidson's fairly credulous take on Conard's thesis. She begins, "Adam Davidson is moving up in the world. He has gone from fellating the 1% to the top 0.1%." And concludes, "Conard at first seems to yet another evangelist of a hopelessly flawed and dangerous orthodoxy, and the more he speaks, the more he seems to be deeply imbalanced, so intensely invested in his distorted personal mythology that he is driven to make the world at large reflect it back. It would be far better for Davidson and the New York Times to treat people like Conard as epitomes of deep-seated cultural pathologies, rather than promote them." ...

... David Atkins: "It's hard to overstate the degree to which the top 0.1% in this country is completely disconnected from the experience of the broader public, to the extent that it's difficult to tell the difference between cloistered cluelessness and rank sociopathy.... No, there's nothing the President can say to make them happy. There are only three choices here: 1) accept the system as is and give in to complete plutocratic rule; 2) try to win elections with the full measure of their spending against us and see what happens; or 3) Fight like hell to change the campaign finance system. The fact that these people can buy elections is one of the few things saving them from the pitchforks." ...

... Jamelle Bouie of the American Prospect: "There is a disturbing corollary to Conard's worldview...: if the wealthy are supremely virtuous for their pursuit of wealth, then those who reject that choice ... are unworthy of our respect or admiration.... Judging from [Romney's] domestic policy plans -- huge income tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, combined with tax cuts on investment income, and a dramatic reduction in social services..., Romney's thinking has more in common with his friend than it does with any of us." ...

... CW: I think these little windows into Tagg Romney's amazing business success and Conard's views give us a real sense of Romney's own worldview. If Romney is awkward with ordinary people it is because he has a big, dark secret that he's afraid will get out -- in fact, he often accidentally reveals little bits of it. The big, dark secret is The Real Romney -- a monster of arrogance with an incredible sense of entitlement. When Ann Romney said "It's our turn," she really meant it.

Nice Shirt! Erin Ryan of Jezebel: Ann Romney wore a $990 tee-shirt when she appeared on CBS's "This Morning" show to tell folks what a regular guy Willard is.

Steve Benen: apparently Mitt Romney wants to be president so he can ruin the economy again. ...

... The Obama campaign has a new interactive tool that shows how Obama policies would help a woman throughout her life & how Romney policies would reverse that assitance. Via Greg Sargent. ...

... Jessica Yellin & Paul Steinhauser of CNN: "The Obama campaign renewed its focus on women voters Thursday with a stepped up attack on Mitt Romney. A data-filled memo alleges the budget cuts, tax reform and social policy Romney supports will disproportionately hurt middle- and low-income women. The campaign is releasing the tool [linked above] and memo on the same day Romney plans to appear with Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who is widely believed to be among the top contenders for the GOP vice presidential slot. McDonnell has become something of a lightening rod among left-leaning women's groups after he supported -- then modified -- legislation that would have required women seeking abortion to submit to an invasive ultrasound before the procedure."

Michael Barbaro, et al., of the New York Times on the shortlived career of Ric Grenell, Romney foreign policy advisor. ...

... Jon Stewart on the shortlived career of Ric Grenell, Romney foreign policy advisor:

Quinnipiac University: "Riding the voter perception that he is as good as or better than President Barack Obama at fixing the economy, Republican challenger Mitt Romney catches up with the president in Florida and Ohio, two critical swing states, while the president opens an 8-point lead in Pennsylvania, according to a Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll released today."

Politics is weird and creepy -- and now I know lacks even the loosest attachment to anything like reality. -- Shep Smith:

Local News

Rudi Keller of the Columbia (Missouri) Tribune: "A Kirksville Republican lawmaker announced publicly he is gay [Wednesday] at a news conference opposing a bill that has gained national attention for its proposed restrictions on in-school discussions of sexuality. Rep. Zach Wyatt, who is leaving the House after a single term to study marine biology, said during the news conference that he could no longer keep his sexual orientation to himself in the face of what he considers an example of bigoted legislation."

News Ledes

USA Today: "Another former close aide to John Edwards testified Thursday about bungled efforts to keep the former presidential candidate's affair hidden from staff members, including an awkward encounter when she showed up at a hotel weeks after her work filming Edwards had ended."

Washington Post: "The number of people applying for jobless benefits declined sharply last week, the government reported Thursday, providing a surprisingly upbeat signal leading into Friday’s jobs report. The drop in applications for unemployment assistance fell by 27,000 to a seasonally adjusted 365,000, the largest weekly drop in nearly a year...."

Politico: "Opponents of the GOP [version of the Violence Against Women] bill say that the legislation needs special protection for gay, immigrant and Native American victims. Republicans say VAWA should deal squarely with the issue of violence against women regardless of their ethnicity or sexuality, noting that their legislation doesn't weaken protection for any segment of the population."

New York Times: "On Thursday, Facebook set the estimated price for its initial public offering at $28 to $35 a share, according to a revised prospectus. At the midpoint of the range, the social networking company is on track to raise $10.6 billion, in an debut that could value the company at $86 billion."

Guardian: "Chen Guangcheng, the Chinese activist at the centre of a growing international storm, has said he wants to leave the country on Hillary Clinton's plane when she flies out of Beijing at the end of this week. There has been mounting concern over his future amid confusing accounts, including from Chen himself, on his decision to leave US diplomatic protection and remain in China, and his subsequent desire to leave." ...

     ... New York Times Update: "Chen Guangcheng, the blind dissident lawyer at the heart of a diplomatic crisis between China and the United States, telephoned in to a Congressional hearing on Thursday to plead for help in leaving his country."

Guardian: "Dozens of documents taken by US special forces from Osama bin Laden's compound during the raid in which the al-Qaida leader was killed are to be released by American authorities. Though tens of thousands of documents, videos and computer discs were seized, only a handful are to be made public on Thursday, in the original Arabic and in English translation along with a commentary from experts at the Combating Terrorism Centre at the US Military Academy at West Point." ...

     ... Voice of America Update: "A selected set of documents seized from the compound of Osama bin Laden last year sheds new light on the terrorist leader. The documents highlight what was, at times, an apparently difficult relationship between al-Qaida's core group, headed by bin Laden, and its affiliates." ...

     ... You can view a pdf of the documents, with English translations, here.


The Commentariat -- May 2, 2012

My column in today's New York Times eXaminer is here, and for once I mostly agree with Ross Douthat. The NYTX front page is here.

Nicholas Confessore of the New York Times: Wall Streets hates Obama, loves Romney, and they're saying so with their big fat checkbooks -- closed for Obama, open for Willard.

Matthew O'Brien of The Atlantic: Chicago Fed President Charles Evans goes populist & breaks with the Fed orthodoxy. Looks as if somebody listens to Krugman.

Paul Waldman in the American Prospect, commenting on Tagg Romney's extraordinary good fortune -- see yesterday's Commentariat for the link to the NYT story: "... conservatives have become particularly vehement in defending inequality since the meltdown of 2008, insisting that in America, there is no such thing as privilege, money comes only from merit, wealth is a sign of virtue, and if we raise taxes a smidge on those at the top of the income ladder, we're only 'punishing success.' ... When [Tagg] decided this private equity thing looked interesting, there was an escalator waiting, and all he had to do was hop on. That's opportunity."

Not So Supreme. M. J. Lee of Politico: "The Supreme Court's favorability rating has plummeted to a 25-year low, with Americans on both sides of the aisle demonstrating historically negative views of the high court, according to a new poll released Tuesday. Barely more than half of those polled, 52 percent, have a favorable opinion of SCOTUS, a Pew Research Center survey found — the lowest figure in the history of the poll, which began in 1987, and a steep drop from a high of 80 percent in 1994.

Spencer Ackerman in Wired: there's no end in sight of the "war on terrorism"; the U.S. has no idea what the future of Al Qaeda is or even what/who Al Qaeda is. ...

... CW: I don't know if Jonathan Chait is right about this, but I think he might be: "The neoconservatives who dominated the [Bush] administration’s foreign policy believed before the attacks that states, not non-state actors like a band of terrorists, were the thing to focus on.... Democrats believed the Republican focus on state sponsorship was mistaken.... When figures like Romney and McCain were scoffing at Obama promises to capture bin Laden even if it meant violating the sovereignty of our nominal ally Pakistan, they were signaling partisan and ideological fidelity with the Bush administration."

Felicia Sonmez of the Washington Post: Meet Richard Carmona, former Bush surgeon general, actual hero & the Democrat's hope to become U.S. Senator from Arizona, & he might help Obama pull off an upset victory in the state, too. CW: Seriously, you're gonna love this guy.

Nate Silver of the New York Times: Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) "has probably become a modest underdog to retain his seat." His primary opponent is a Sarah Palin-backed Tea Partier. "If Mr. Lugar loses, it should increase Democrats’ odds of picking up the Senate seat in November."

Some of the cast of "The West Wing" reunite for a PSA:

Every Emerging Detail Is a Story. Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post: "U.S. Secret Service personnel tied to last month’s night of heavy drinking, partying and sexual encounters in Cartagena, Colombia paid 10 of the 12 women they became involved with, officials said. None of the women were found to be connected to terrorist organizations or drug cartels."

Recess! Dana Milbank: "To call this 112th Congress a do-nothing Congress would be an insult — to the real Do-Nothing Congress of 1947-48. That Congress passed 908 laws. To date, this one has passed 106 public laws. Even if they triple that output in the rest of 2012 — not a terribly likely proposition — they will still be in last place going back at least 40 years."

Farhad Manjoo of Slate on the FCC Report on Google's stunning snooping program. Google says "We're sorry; we had no idea." Manjoo says, "Oh yeah?" "When a Street View car encountered an open Wi-Fi network -- that is, a router that was not protected by a password -- it recorded all the digital traffic traveling across that router. As long as the car was within the vicinity, it sucked up a flood of personal data: login names, passwords, the full text of emails, Web histories, details of people's medical conditions, online dating searches, and streaming music and movies."

Matt DeLuca of the Daily Beast on yesterday's May Day demonstratins.

Presidential Race

The Obama campaign will run this add in three swing states:

Philip Rucker of the Washington Post on Willard Romney's day as Not-President. Check out Romney's "explanation" of his 2007 remark that it was wrong for the U.S. to go after bin Laden. Hey, it was Joe Biden's fault. ...

... Steve Kornacki of Salon says Obama's dramatic drop into Afghanistan was a lesson in "how to make Mitt look small." ...

... Fred Kaplan of Slate: "The Republicans have glommed on to a neat rhetorical trick: When Barack Obama does something indisputably admirable or effective, simply pretend that he had nothing to do with it.... Now Mitt Romney, this year's presumptive GOP nominee, is waving off Obama's role in the killing of Osama Bin Laden -- the president’s signal national-security achievement -- by chortling that 'any thinking American would have ordered the exact same thing,' even Jimmy Carter. Two new investigative reports ... thoroughly rebut that notion."

David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix: "A couple of weeks ago, when the Mitt Romney campaign hired Richard Grenell as foreign-policy spokesperson, I had two immediate thoughts: 1) man, Romney just keeps digging in deeper with the nutty John Bolton foreign-policy crowd; and 2) man, Romney really had to wait until the nomination was completely wrapped up before hiring an openly gay staffer, huh? Well, turns out that even with the Republican nomination sewn up, Romney still couldn't hire a gay staffer. According to Jennifer Rubin, Grenell has quit the campaign because of the controversy stirred up by his gayness....For anyone wondering how Governor Etch-a-Sketch would actually behave in office, on issues that you suspect he campaigns on but doesn't personally believe, this may be instructive. When he gets a little pressure from the conservative base, Romney quickly kowtows to them." ...

... Nia-Malika Henderson & Rachel Weiner of the Washington Post: "Richard Grenell ...stepped down from his post Tuesday, suggesting that the conservative backlash over his sexuality prevented him from being effective in his role." CW: to refresh your memory on what a swell guy Grenell is, read the story. Grenell lost his job for the wrong reasons.

Joel Siegel of ABC News: "Newt Gingrich ends his White House dream today with his political committee facing a mountain of debts -- owing about $4 million to scores of businesses and campaign workers around the country who fear they will never get paid. Campaign watchdogs said the size of Gingrich's debt is extraordinary -- and could have been avoided if the candidate and his team had been more disciplined."

Right Wing World

Glen Johnson of the Boston Globe: "Senator Scott Brown, who won office vowing to be the 41st vote to block President Obama's health care law and who has since voted three times to repeal it, acknowledged Monday that he takes advantage of it to keep his elder daughter on his congressional health insurance plan. 'Of course I do,' the Massachusetts Republican told the Globe. Brown is insuring his daughter Ayla, a professional singer who is 23 years old, under a widely popular provision of the law requiring that family plans cover children up to age 26."

CW: I missed Driftglass's hilarious take on Paul Ryan's (RTP-Wisc.) shocked discovery that Ayn Rand was an atheist. But it's not too late to read it.

News Ledes

Raleigh News & Observer: today's testimony in the John Edwards case focused on Elizabeth Edwards' reactions to his affair with Rielle Hunter.

Guardian: "News Corporation has released a unanimous statement of support for Rupert Murdoch, after its board met to consider the findings of the parliamentary report that concluded the media mogul was "not a fit person" to lead a major global corporation." ...

... BUT. Guardian: "Rupert Murdoch's global media empire is facing a challenge on a new front in the billowing phone-hacking scandal after a powerful US Senate committee opened direct contact with British investigators in an attempt to find out whether News Corporation has broken American laws."

Boston Globe: "Ending a yearlong campaign and a weeklong farewell, former House speaker Newt Gingrich formally ended his presidential candidacy Wednesday in Arlington, Va."

Guardian: "Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng has pleaded for help to let him leave the country with his family, with a US-brokered deal for his future unravelling within hours of his leaving the Beijing embassy where he had taken shelter." ...

... New York Times: "Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese dissident who fled house arrest last month in a dramatic escape from security forces, left the American Embassy compound for treatment at a medical facility in Beijing, American officials said on Wednesday in the first public acknowledgment by the United States that it knew of his whereabouts.... Under the arrangement agreed to by the United States, China and Mr. Chen, the lawyer would be relocated to a different part of China from his hometown in Shandong province, where has been under house arrest and where he says his family has been physically attacked, the officials said." ...

     ... Story has been updated; new lede: "In a series of dramatically conflicting developments on Wednesday, the Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng left American custody under disputed circumstances, and what briefly looked like a deft diplomatic achievement for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton turned into a potential debacle." ...

     ... More on the Chen story here from the New York Times.

Washington Post: "At least 11 people were killed in clashes that broke out early Wednesday at demonstrations outside the Egyptian Defense Ministry, the Health Ministry said. The demonstrations evolved from a sit-in convened to decry the way the Egypt’s generals have been ruling the country."

Washington Post: "The Labor Department on Tuesday ordered Wal-Mart to pay $4.8 million in back wages and damages to thousands of employees who were denied overtime charges, the latest in a string of embarrassments for the company over its business practices."

New York Times: "Daw Aung San Suu Kyi took her place in Myanmar's Parliament on Wednesday, reciting the oath of office in a brief ceremony that marked a watershed in national reconciliation after decades of military rule."

New York Times: "Less than two hours after President Obama left Afghanistan airspace on Wednesday, explosions shook the capital and the Interior Ministry said a suicide attacker had exploded a large bomb at the gates of a compound used by foreigners in the east of Kabul, killing seven Afghans."